New season means new story lines. As returning champs, the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks will have a national spotlight on them all season long.
As things are about to get into full swing here, lets look at five Blackhawks that are going to garner their share of attention.
5) Patrick Kane
Kane’s new found fire-under-ass is going to be put to the test all season long. Does the mature, stone cold killer we saw last season continue to kick ass and take names? Or has another cup win sent him back to the drunken Lincoln Park panty chaser of season’s past?
Kane knows hockey and he is aware that this team has a shot to do something real damn special. His head is in the right place, and I think this could be a remarkable year for Kane.
With Sochi, he is going to have the added load of being the face of American hockey, and he is the face of American hockey. But (sober) Kane thrives in front of the cameras, and the wear and tear of the extra games shouldn’t affect him.
4) Brandon Pirri
(NOTE: I wrote this before this tweet that Brandon Saad was going to start the year at center. Complete mind boggler. I know Q wants to reward play, and for Saad that means a spot on the top 6. However, it makes zero sense. I honestly believe that by day one of the regular season the coaching staff will have Saad back on the third line.)
Brandon Pirri’s name is going to bubble up all season long. The Blackhawks should put him on the second line, give him Sharp and Hossa on his flanks, and put the second line center discussion behind them. Last season’s AHL leading scorer should be given every opportunity to succeed.
If for some reason he can’t cut the mustard, the Blackhawks will turn to Drew “Him of the Giant Face” LeBlanc or the slow and steady vet, Michal Handzus, or apparently Brandon Saad. Should it come to this, what is to be done with Pirri? Another year of seasoning in Rock Vegas or 7 minutes a game slaying NHL bums on the fourth line? Or maybe he moves at the deadline…OMINOUS DOTS
3) Coach Q/Whichever miserable fuck runs the power play (it’s Kompon)
Listen I don’t want this to sound like jobs are hanging in the balance because they are not. This team is going to be good, potentially very good. If anything, the coaches will garner some added attention simply because the media and fans are going to nitpick every little flaw.
Of course, to say that the power play is a little flaw is underselling it. Three seasons of underachievement, and looking like a pile of turds many times. It’s mystifying that with all these tools, someone can’t figure out how to put out an effective 5v4 unit. Make no mistake, with every 0-4, 0-5, 0-6 performance there are going to be inches in the press dedicated to the same redundant answers Q always gives.
On a lesser note, the team will have to adjust to not having PK aficionado Michael Frolik. Not to belittle his contribution, but newbies Ben Smith and Jeremy Morin should have the PK humming nicely. It will be a continued strength of the Blackhawks.
2) Bryan Bickell
I think because he signed his deal early, and because of my number 1, Bickell didn’t catch the angst of the Twitter/blogosphere as hard as others. Between his play in the postseason and the cheddar he got paid, he is going to be a focal point this year.
Bickell will get thrown right on to the top line with Toews and Kane, it worked so well against the Bruins why change it? (Q will change it immediately after this is posted) His size, skating, and finish got him a nice payday. However, we’ve never seen sustained production from Bicks. He is prone to long stretches of subpar play and next to no points. Not a big deal, happens to lots of players. *looks squarely at Patrick Sharp and his perfect jawline*
However, what the coaching staff does and how he responds is going to be crucial. If it’s a scoring funk, the coaching staff will probably let him ride it out on the top line. However, if they see some positioning or effort plays they don’t like, he could get busted back down to the 3rd line. With the kind of dough he is raking in now, every game not on Toews’ wing is going to have the groundswell murmuring.
1) Corey Crawford
As if there was any doubt who is going to be the storyline all season long. Crawford is going to find himself in the media crosshairs after every stinker, every soft goal, hell the out of town writers might note every damn glove side goal. The new paper, the loss of goaltending guru Stephen Waite, and a drunk Russian backup rather than the lovable Ray Emery. Those are all going to weigh on Crawford’s shoulders this year. Oh, not to mention backstopping a Stanley Cup favorite.
Crawford’s roller coaster run with the Blackhawks reached a zenith last year, and while I know he has balls of steel, I expect his numbers to regress some. The truth of the matter is that a lot is going to be put on the six men playing defense in front of him. When the going was good in previous years, the D pulled Crawford’s nuts out of the fire when he was bad, and vice versa. With no changes on the back-end, the resolve of Crawford is going to take a lot to be shaken. But even with that new contract, I don’t envy him one bit. I expect a solid year from the Blackhawks tender.